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Illingworth House: Chance Child - Part One: A House That Seems Empty

Helen packs her bags and leaves home.

John Waddington-Feather continues her engrossing story of the fortunes andmisfortunes of a Yorkshire mill-owning family. To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/illingworth_house/

The sun was setting and it was noticeably darker when the lovers reached the quarry floor. They slumped into the car, Helen holding John close and dabbing his eye. Guilt-ridden and shocked, neither said a word all the way back to Keighworth.

Joe calmed down in time, but remained outraged; the memory of what he had seen searing his mind. He sat for some time, his head in his hands, too upset to speak and licking his bleeding knuckles. His friends sat by him, offering crumbs of comfort from time to time, and dreading what would happen when Abe Illingworth found out Joe had beaten up his son. They would be dragged in as witnesses for they had seen everything.

"Why did she do it?" he said over and over again. "Why did she tak on wi' that young bugger? Ah thowt I could trust her."

Mat took out his flask of tea and gave him a drink, talking all the while to calm him down and give the young couple chance to get clear. But Joe wouldn't be consoled.

"Ah saw what Ah shouldn't ha' seen an' Ah wish Ah hadn't. She's been lyin' to us all this time. Lyin' between her teeth an' that's what hurts most. She told us she'd stopped seein' him an' now t' bastard's taken advantage of her. Ah don't know what ahr Mary'll say when Ah tell her. She's let us both down."

When his friends heard the distant roar of Illingworth's car, they knew they were safe and Harry suggested they go home. They walked slowly back to the quarry in silence, with the raucous daws cawing at them above. Then, they collected their bikes and had a miserable ride to town.

They didn't stop at the pub as they'd intended but rode straight home. Joe parked his bike behind the shed in the backyard, wondering how he was going to tell Mary. He also wondered vaguely what had happened to John Illingworth and Helen. Had she arrived home, or were they still together somewhere? Now that he had cooled down, he dreaded meeting Helen and felt sickened by the whole business.

He might have coped better had it been some other lad, but Abe Illingworth's! Joe was a mild man and forgiveness came easy to him on most counts, but not with Abe Illingworth or his kin. With them he was implacable.

The house was strangely quiet when he entered and that unnerved him. There was no sign of Helen and he was relieved about that, though he knew he would have to face her some time. But his relief soon turned to apprehension, for his wife, who always fussed over him when he came in, sat alone by the fire, crumpled and hugging herself. She made no move when he opened the door. One glance told him she'd been crying, but he said nothing, lost for words, and went to the scullery to wash his hands.

There were traces of blood on the scullery floor and a towel, sodden with it, soaking in a bowl. John Illingworth had been there and gone. But where? Placing his basket under the sink, he took a deep breath and went out to face Mary.

"Where's our Helen?" was all he said, thinking she might be in her room. His wife didn't reply, so he continued, "Ah suppose tha's heard?"

Mary didn't look at him but stared blankly into the fire. "Ah've heard all right. She's left," she answered bleakly. "She packed an' went straight to Bradford to stay wi' that lass she works wi'. She says she's not comin' back."

Joe said nothing a while, then asked, "Did she tell thee what's happened?" They both spoke quietly. Neither of them had any heart for a row, Joe least of all. His anger had quite evaporated.

"Aye," said his wife wearily. "Some of it. Ah can guess t' rest." Then she looked up at him for the first time. There was bitterness in her eyes. "Tha made a right mess o' young Illingworth an' that's helped nobody. Ah don't know what'll happen when his dad sees him. It were bad enough before."

Joe flared momentarily. " Ah don't give a bugger about his dad or him. What about our Helen? Did he tell thee what he did to her? He asked for all he got," he snarled. Then he calmed down when Mary began weeping.

He got up from his chair and put his arm round her, begging her to stop crying.

"Ah'm sorry, lass. Ah truly am, but Ah couldn't help misen. Ah wish Ah hadn't seen 'em, but Ah couldn't help misen once Ah had. He were takin' advantage of her. What else could Ah do?" he pleaded.

"She loves 'im," said Mary, wiping her eyes with her pinafore. "An' he says he loves her. He told me so himself an' that he were sorry for what had happened. He says he's goin' to do right by her an' he knows how thou must feel an' he's sorry."

"Is he badly?" asked Joe.

"He were fit enough to drive her to Bradford once he'd cleaned himself up. But he looked a right mess when he came in."

"Ah can't have hurt 'im that much," said Joe with some relief, but like the others, he wondered how Abe Illingworth would react when he saw his son.

They talked brokenly for some time, then Mary went to get Joe his evening meal. He'd no appetite and said he would make do with some toast and dripping. Soon after that, they went to bed, but the house seemed empty without Helen and neither he nor Mary slept much that night.


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